Mīmāṃsā (Sanskrit: मीमांसा) is a Sanskrit word that means "reflection" or "critical investigation" and thus refers to a tradition of contemplation which reflected on the meanings of certain Vedic texts. This tradition is also known as Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā because of its focus on the earlier (pūrva) Vedic texts dealing with ritual actions, and similarly as Karma-Mīmāṃsā due to its focus on ritual action (karma). It is one of six Vedic "affirming" (āstika) schools of Hinduism. This particular school is known for its philosophical theories on the nature of dharma, based on hermeneutics of the Vedas, especially the Brāḥmanas and Saṃhitas. The Mīmāṃsā school was foundational and influential for the vedāntic schools, which were also known as Uttara-Mīmāṃsā for their focus on the "later" (uttara) portions of the Vedas, the Upaniṣads. While both "earlier" and "later" Mīmāṃsā investigate the aim of human action, they do so with different attitudes towards the necessity of ritual praxis.
Mīmāṃsā has several sub-schools, each defined by its epistemology. The Prābhākara sub-school, which takes its name from the seventh-century philosopher Prabhākara, described the five epistemically reliable means to gaining knowledge: pratyakṣa or perception; anumāna or inference; upamāṇa, by comparison and analogy; arthāpatti, the use of postulation and derivation from circumstances; and śabda, the word or testimony of past or present reliable experts. The Bhāṭṭa sub-school, from philosopher Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, added a sixth means to its canon; anupalabdhi meant non-perception, or proof by the absence of cognition (e.g., the lack of gunpowder on a suspect's hand)
The school of Mīmāṃsā consists of both atheistic and theistic doctrines, but the school showed little interest in systematic examination of the existence of Gods. Rather, it held that the soul is an eternal, omnipresent, inherently active spiritual essence, and focused on the epistemology and metaphysics of dharma. For the Mīmāṃsā school, dharma meant rituals and social duties, not devas, or gods, because gods existed only in name. The Mīmāṃsakas also held that Vedas are "eternal, author-less, [and] infallible", that Vedic vidhi, or injunctions and mantras in rituals are prescriptive kārya or actions, and the rituals are of primary importance and merit. They considered the Upaniṣads and other texts related to self-knowledge and spirituality as subsidiary, a philosophical view that Vedānta disagreed with.
Mīmāṃsā gave rise to the study of philology and the philosophy of language. While their deep analysis of language and linguistics influenced other schools of Hinduism, their views were not shared by others. Mīmāṃsakas considered the purpose and power of language was to clearly prescribe the proper, correct and right. In contrast, Vedāntins extended the scope and value of language as a tool to also describe, develop and derive. Mīmāṃsakas considered orderly, law driven, procedural life as central purpose and noblest necessity of dharma and society, and divine (theistic) sustenance means to that end.
The Mīmāṃsā school is a form of philosophical realism. A key text of the Mīmāṃsā school is the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra of Jaimini.
Mīmāṃsā, also romanized Mimansa or Mimamsa, means "reflection, consideration, profound thought, investigation, examination, discussion" in Sanskrit. It also refers to the "examination of the Vedic text" and to a school of Hindu philosophy that is also known as Pūrva Mīmāṃsā ("prior" inquiry, also Karma-Mīmāṃsā), in contrast to Uttara Mīmāṃsā ("posterior" inquiry, also Jñāna-Mīmāṃsā) – the opposing school of Vedanta. This division is based on classification of the Vedic texts into karmakāṇḍa, the early sections of the Veda treating of mantras and rituals (Samhitas and Brahmanas), and the jñānakāṇḍa dealing with the meditation, reflection and knowledge of Self, Oneness, Brahman (the Upaniṣads). Between the Samhitas and Brahmanas, the Mīmāṃsā school places greater emphasis to the Brahmanas - the part of Vedas that is a commentary on Vedic rituals.
Donald Davis translates Mīmāṃsā as the "desire to think", and in colloquial historical context as "how to think and interpret things". In the last centuries of the first millennium BCE, the word Mīmāṃsā began to denote the thoughts on and interpretation of the Vedas, first as Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā for rituals portions in the earlier layers of texts in the Vedas, and as Uttara-Mīmāṃsā for the philosophical portions in the last layers. Over time, Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā was just known as the Mīmāṃsā school, and the Uttara-Mīmāṃsā as the Vedanta school.
Mīmāṃsā scholars are referred to as Mīmāṃsākas.